Carbondale conducts feasibility study for creative housing | PostIndependent.com

Carbondale conducts feasibility study for creative housing

Carla Jean Whitley
cj@postindependent.com

Affordable housing remains a challenge in the Roaring Fork Valley and surrounding areas.

Community entities gathered in Carbondale's Third Street Center gymnasium for a housing forum nearly two years ago. It was packed. And Tuesday night, a group again met in the space to discuss one of the area's most-pressing issues.

"We've not forgotten this plight," said Carbondale Arts Executive Director Amy Kimberly. "At Carbondale Arts and the Carbondale Creative District and the town, we're all working on this issue. It's just not one of those things that you can put a Band-Aid on and all the problems are solved. Slowly but surely we're chipping away. We've thrown the seeds out and we'll see what grows."

The meeting was an opportunity for the public to learn about and comment on a feasibility study being conducted by Artspace. The Minneapolis-based nonprofit consults on and develops living and working spaces for artists. The organization became a nonprofit real estate developer to ensure artists wouldn't continue to be priced out of the areas in which Artspace works. It has completed 46 projects in 19 states – including Colorado – and 30 cities.

Artspace's Wendy Holmes and Anna Growcott spent Tuesday and Wednesday in focus groups, the public meeting and site tours. The feasibility study is the first in a typically three-step process; after delivering its findings, Artspace will begin an arts-focused market study, which Carbondale has already funded.

A third step could be project development. Artspace owns such projects in a number of communities, but other communities have turned to the organization as a consultant and developed projects on their own.

People working in creative sectors – a term both Carbondale and Artspace define broadly – can afford $1 per square foot, per month, on national average. Artspace has found artists in its spaces have been able to focus on art, make more money from it and reduce the number of jobs they juggle, Holmes said.

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"But these projects also helped catalyze, formally and informally, other arts communities," she said. "The creative economy is a huge economic driver."

The organization emphasizes community-led development. It helps communities examine other goals and identify whether the creative sector could provide answers. For example, a Seattle neighborhood with which Artspace worked needed a preschool. Its many Vietnamese children were in particular need. The resulting Artspace project included a preschool within the development.

"These mixed-use, public-private projects require a whole team of leaders from various sectors to make them move forward," Growcott said. While in town, she and Holmes met with exactly those people: artists, funders, business leaders, local government officials.

Funding and financing would, of course, be part of any project that moves forward. Because the organization has worked with Colorado communities before, it has an idea of the resources available. Those include low-income housing tax credits, state housing home funds, historic funds and others.

But each project is different, and a community's precise need determines its funding mix.

Audience members in Tuesday's meeting expressed interest in not only rental units, but also homes for purchase. Family and pet-friendly housing was also on the top of the list, as well as storage space. Other community needs articulated were parking and tool libraries, whether for art supplies, bicycles or more agrarian uses.

Artspace will deliver the report based on the preliminary feasibility study in February. That will include recommendations for moving forward. The organization will conduct the arts market study later in the year, in an effort to learn how much and what kind of space Carbondale creatives need.

Ultimately, rent prices are determined by the funding sources that support the space, Growcott said.

"The only real control we can have is over the places and spaces we own and operate and keep affordable," Holmes said. "People have more interest in an area when artists move in. You already have that in your creative district, which is a double-edged sword."

Kimberly reiterated that working together is essential to address this challenge, and in launching the study, the town has already expressed its desire to do so.

"How can we keep the community that makes this place authentic and what it is?" she asked. "This isn't going to happen unless our whole community really comes together and finds a way to make this happen. This is just a step to collect data and info. But ultimately, it's going to be up to us to bring this to fruition."